ON SHAKY GROUND by John J. Nance


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Boom-bang novelistic nonfiction about earthquakes and the scientists who study them. Faced with a dry, dusty, textbook topic--the ins and outs of seismology and geology--Nance (Blind Trust, 1986; Splash of Colors, 1984) keeps things fresh by zooming in on the men and women who live with earthquakes. He attends especially to the Anchorage quake of Good Friday 1964, which he recounts ti la Michener from multiple points of view (a boy on a dock, a captain in a ship, etc.), describing with gusto the spectacular trembler-induced special effects: sidewalks rippling like Jello, locomotives hurtling through the air, harbors sucked dry from tsunami undertow. A heap of other disasters--the eruption of Mt. St. Helens among them--make less prominent but equally explosive appearances. Balancing this storm and fury, Nance tracks the work of several American seismologists and geologists--mostly young, intuitive, gritty--as they try to fathom the mysterious mechanisms that govern earthquakes and to develop suitable prophylactic measures. The message isn't encouraging: we've figured out a lot about quakes--this book offers some scientific detective thrills along the way, although that's not its main thrust--but it's still a case of fleas trying to tame a rogue elephant. Big, sprawling (centuries and continents shake by as the earthquakes keep rolling on), lurid (Nance loves to flash the end-of-the-world metaphor), and scary (depending of your residence). The perfect gift for that Californian you really hate.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1988
Publisher: Morrow